The way contemporary science and innovation is funded and published is faulty, according to one recent University of Washington alum, and she’s setting out to change all that.
During Cindy Wu’s senior year at UW, she built what used to be known as Microryza (now known as Experiment.com) with co-founder Dennis Luan. The crowd-funding website would allow people to donate to young researchers and scientists to help raise funds for their various research projects.
Wu used the invention of the telescope as an example to explain how her website works.
“In order for Galileo to invent the telescope, he was funded by rich funders such as the Medici family,” Wu said. “Now, I am taking that idea and adapting it to Experiment.com. It’s a site where people can fund what interests them and also see the progress of the research.”
Traditionally, science is funded by the National Institute of Health. The NIH spends $30 billion a year on scientific research and about a decade ago, it would regularly receive around 20,000 proposals per year from hopeful scientists in need of funding.
Those proposals have nearly doubled in 2014. The budget provided by the U.S. government is the same.
“In addition to that, people who are getting funded are only senior professors and those who have track records and experience,” Wu said.
Wu explained that in order to get funded, one’s research project needs to demonstrate that a large sum of money is needed and that it should be well-defined and benefit the whole community.
Wu recalled researching an enzyme that could be used as an antibiotic for staph epidermidis when she was at UW. Unfortunately, the chance of her research getting funded was low. Due to her young age, she was missing a track record.
With Experiment.com, Wu said that her goal is to bring science back to its original roots. She said she wants to surpass the amount of money that is funded by the government for scientific research.
“If we bring everyone together, I believe we would be able to raise more money than the entire global research budget, which is $1.25 trillion,” said Wu.
Because of the Internet, everything seems more possible.
Experiment.com has helped a number of different researchers.
Danny Colombara needed funds to research the viral causes of lung cancer. His goal was to raise $5,500. With the help of Experiment.com, he raised the money.
“One negative is that traditional funding sources are laborious to prepare and take a long time before funds could possibly be in hand, so it just doesn’t seem worth it for small projects like this,” said Colombara. “Unfortunately, there aren’t many mini-grants provided by the NIH that are available that would be faster, simpler. That’s why I’m thankful for crowdsourcing like Experiment.com.”
With the money that was raised, Colombara can now carry on with his research and update his progress on the site.
Researcher Stephanie Zaborac-Reed recently raised $815 in order to research fossils found in Central Washington.
“Being able to research on these fossils does help explain changes that the Earth is facing,” Zaborac-Reed said. “For instance, some plants that are discovered can only survive in wet conditions. However, these plant fossils are found in Central Washington where it is dry and arid. That means, there was a change in weather and climate.”
Not only does Zaborac-Reed find people that support and are interested in her research, she believes that the Experiment.com community encourages people of any age to conduct research on what they personally are interested in.
“There was no way I would be funded by the NIH,” Zaborac-Reed said. “They would only fund research such as the cure for cancer. Thanks to Experiment.com, I was able to conduct my small research. It may not be life-changing to others, but it is definitely life-changing for me.”
Experiment.com isn’t just trying to change the science-funding model.
“The way science is published is also faulty,” Wu said. “Even after the research is compiled into a journal by the researcher, it will not be available for the general public. Those who have access to it are mostly universities that pay for the journals. It even costs about $85 to read a paper on Google Scholar.”
With Experiment.com, Wu is trying to change that. All the progress, along with multimedia elements, is being documented on the researchers’ pages so that people know what they are funding.